Bands of Muslim soldiers roamed the streets of Cordova, their curved swords clinging to their hips. From northern Africa these fanatical hordes had poured into Spain, bringing the message of Islam: Let the Jew convert or die.

In the darkness of the night, flames soared upwards from the great synagogue, formerly the center of Cordova's Jewish population. Houses of learning and prayer alike had been set to the torch. Judaism in Spain was burning.

Indoors, behind closed shutters, families of Jews hurriedly threw together their belongings: clothes, dishes, jewelry, the Shabbat candlesticks, the family Menorah, and books so precious that they could not be left behind.

Along with the thousands of Jews who fled, went the spiritual leader of the community, Rabbi Maimon along with his two sonsThrongs of fugitives abandoned their homes. Some headed for the north of Spain, where Muslim rule had not yet extended. Others made for less distant villages in the hope that they might be able to go on with their lives unnoticed.

It was 1148. Along with the thousands of Jews who fled Cordova went the Jewish judge of the community, its spiritual leader, Rabbi Maimon. With him were his two sons, Moshe, who had just completed his bar-mitzvah, and David.

During the next ten years, they were to find no peace or refuge. Constantly on the move, they journeyed from place to place in southern Spain. The invader seemed to be everywhere. Finally, in 1159, Rabbi Maimon decided to leave Spain for good. Together with a band of fugitives like himself, they made a journey across the Mediterranean, coming to Morocco to join the Jewish community of Fez.

Even in Morocco, conditions were difficult. Many Jews had been forced to admit upon pain of death that Mohammed was a true prophet. Secretly, they continued to live as Jews, known as Marranos, keeping the mitzvahs and traditions of the Torah.

Their spirit was low. When would the harsh decrees be lifted? When would they be able to return to their faith openly?

Moshe, also known as Maimonides ("son of Maimon"), now 24 years old, soon became well-known in the community. Even in Cordova, before his Bar-Mitzvah, he had learned the Torah in great depth from his father. During their years of wandering, he had constantly reviewed his studies and deepened his understanding. In addition, he had gained a wealth of knowledge in mathematics, philosophy, and medicine. Now, in Fez, it did not take long before his vast learning was recognized by Jew and Muslim alike.

Unfortunately, at this time, a terrible argument broke out amongst the Jewish sages of the day. Could those Jews who kept to their faith in secret, while publicly professing loyalty to Mohammed, still be considered part of the Jewish people? Or had they renounced the privilege and right of being called a Jew?

To defend his fellow Jews, the young Maimonides, later to be known in Hebrew as the Rambam, arose. In his famous letter, "On Forced Conversion," he defended the cause of the Marranos, bringing brilliant Talmudic proofs and examples to prove their case. Though he certainly didn't approve of what they had done, he conclusively proved that they still retained their full-fledged status as Jews.

With this letter, the youthful Maimonides began to emerge as the great leader of Jews of his dayThroughout world Jewry, his letter was recognized as a beacon of light and hope for those who waited faithfully to return to their Judaism. With this letter, the youthful Maimonides began to emerge as the great leader of Jews of his day, a true descendent of the family of King David, who cared for the oppressed of his people, and courageously dedicated himself to help them.

The letter also brought the Maimonides into the public eye in non-Jewish circles, and he was accused of condemning Islam. There is a tradition in Fez concerning this time, to which even the gates of the city bear witness.

It is said that one day, the Rambam found himself being pursued by a band of blood-thirsty Muslims. He fled, but to no avail. As he reached the first gate of the city they all but seized him. In desperation, he uttered the Holy Name of G‑d. Suddenly a lion appeared and chased away a number of his pursuers. They renewed the chase. At the second gate he again uttered the Name. At once, many of the band fell in chains that pinned them to the earth. By the third gate, Maimonides pronounced the Name again, and a pillar of fire separated him from the would-be assassins. To this day, these gates are called The Lion's Gate, The Gate of Chains, and The Gate of Fire.

After this, Maimonides could no longer stay in Morocco. Together with his family, he had to set out once again, this time ending up in Egypt, where he settled in Fostad. Here at last he was able to find freedom to live as a Jew. Here he would stay till the end of his days.

As his father had been the Jewish judge of Cordova, Maimonides was to become the Chief Rabbi of Fostad, its spiritual leader. He earned his livelihood all this time as a doctor, so famous in fact, that he was the personal physician to the Sultan himself.

It is impossible to imagine how Judaism could ever have survived without the Mishneh TorahIt was during these years that he truly emerged as the great leader of world Jewry, devoting his life to the most serious problems of Jews far and near. His greatest work was the Mishneh Torah, composed over an intense ten-year period. To the present day, it stands as a sentinel of fire in the dark night of our Exile. This monumental work brings together the whole of Jewish thought, from the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, in a form that is clear and understandable to one and all, so that everyone should be able to know exactly what Jewish law requires, and how a person should live as a Jew.

It is impossible to imagine how Judaism could ever have survived without the Mishneh Torah, for it brought the Torah within reach of the ordinary Jew, becoming the single most complete source of Jewish thought and knowledge to the present day. It is a landmark in history, just as Mt. Sinai was a landmark in the development of man. Just as Mt. Sinai brought Torah into the world, the Mishneh Torah assured that it would remain within the reach of mankind.

Appropriately, when the Rambam passed away, it was written on his tomb, "From Moshe to Moshe there arose no one like Moshe."